Black Bream Fishing Tips

By Wayne Comben – The Totally Awesome Fishing Show

Black bream on light gear

Black Bream can give you some great rod-bending action on light gear

For many boat anglers situated on the South coast one of the most eagerly awaited species is without doubt the Black Bream. These great scrappers arrive in spring and often stay well into summer, and they tick a lot of angling boxes.

They almost always fight right the way up to the net, often belying their size with powerful darting runs. They make very good eating and lend themselves to various forms of cooking, many end up on the barbecue where the firm dense flesh is especially good over hot coals. Visually the males in particular can be stunning looking fish, the striking blue hues around the eye make them perfect photographic material, and once you have enough for the table they are a hardy fish that go back well should you wish to return them.

On the subject of returning Bream, the thinking for the conservation minded that keeping male fish exclusively will improve future stocks may be flawed. The breeding cycle of Black Bream means it’s the male of the species that construct the nest. The female subsequently lays her eggs which are fertilised and stick within the structure. The male then protects the nest from the myriad of predators that would otherwise make an easy meal of the contents. This being the case the taking of male fish alone has no benefit to stock levels in the long term. Far better policy is to just take a few and return the rest.

Of course you first need to find them, and for this it’s the Bream’s breeding cycle that provides good information.  Black Bream look for a hard bottom of chalk, rock or similar, which is covered by a thin layer of sand, gravel or sediment. It’s this fine layer that can be fanned away to form a hollow for the nest site. Bream of course like many fish also roam, but finding this type of sea bed can mean finding the bulk of the numbers.  Often these areas are adjacent to reefs and rocks; the UK’s most identified Black Bream mark of Kingmere Rocks in Sussex is a prime example I recently fished for the first time on this famous spot, and it certainly lived up to its noteworthy reputation.

A fine Black Bream in equally fine weather conditions

A fine Black Bream in equally fine weather conditions

My host for the day was Jeff Smith aboard his Warrior 175 Export, ‘Jupiter’s Moon’, and a 7am start saw us head out from Littlehampton for the short run to the rocks.  Arriving we saw that despite being midweek outing the East end of the Kingmere was loaded with boats. With neither of us particularly wanting to join the throng Jeff put us over a mark near the central edge of the chalk structure.

We were using light tackle in the 6-12lb range coupled with matching reels. This kit was more than adequate with a maximum of 6oz leads used at the top pull of the tide, in fact for most of the day half that weight was easily enough to get the baits down. Despite being feisty in the fight Black Bream don’t grow to a huge size. A 5lb plus fish is an exceptional specimen and the British boat record is currently less than 7lb.

Black  bream on lures

Fins up! Caught with a small green soft plastic lure

They can be caught on a variety of baits including ragworm and small pieces of mackerel, I’ve seen angling buddy and LRF supremo Dan Sissons take them on soft plastics and I know others who have had success with this form of fishing. Squid and Cuttle strip is by far the most commonly used offering and it was this we utilised on the day. Cuttle offers a little more resistance from the Bream’s sharp, rat-a-tat nipping – a shoal can make short work of baits and they are particularly adept at cleaning a hook without actually impaling themselves.  If you have the patience to fish it whole Squid head bait can often sort out the bigger fish, it usually means less hook ups but the better Bream find no trouble sucking them in.  Both Jeff and I were ledgering with similar end gear, approximately four feet trace lengths with small good quality hooks, the only difference was an added pop-up bead on the skippers trace.

This idea was something I had intended to try myself after seeing the success that a shore angling friend was having fishing pop-up rigs. On the day I thought it would be an idea to experiment and see which rig fished best so I stuck with a normal luminous bead on the trace just to see what, if any difference, it actually made.

Pop up bead

Pop up bead just below the eye of the hook

Well to cut a long story short the pop up rigs, coupled to trotting the bait back every so often by lifting the rod and free spooling line, absolutely caned the other rig. Jeff by far had the better of things with the majority of the forty odd Bream caught, including the best fish of the day at 3lb 7oz.  Following the success of the pop-up rig the next Bream trip saw them put to good use again. This time I joined Grant Childs and his grandson Jude on Grant’s Warrior 175 ‘At Last’. From the Eastney Cruising Association slips we made our way across Hayling Bay into Bracklesham Bay where the sounder showed some likely looking ground.

Again it was busy with boats so we chose to drop south of the masses to give us some elbow room. The flood tide was just starting to make and from the off the pop-ups were getting bites. Grant had made up a good amount of boiled rice and mashed fish groundbait to hopefully encourage the Bream to stay around; this was sent to the bottom in a large home-made wire mesh dropper as soon as we knew we had fish in the swim and before the tide picked up. Jude was the first in with a nice keeper. At just 7 years of age I’ve yet to see a more avid young angler, his enthusiasm was amazing and he kept us busy with baiting up and unhooking fish for the full eight hours we were out. His only disappointment was he didn’t manage to hook one of the many Garfish that snaffled the Bream baits!

Pop up beads for black bream

Squid strips are a good attractor especially in combination with a pop up bead

All bar one rig had a pop-up bead and incidentally that was the one receiving the least attention. At slack we buoyed anchor and tried another spot. As soon as the ebb began it was the same story with constant action including more Gars and Wrasse to add to the fifty odd Bream caught. Most were of an ideal keeper size but we returned all but half a dozen which were kept for the table. I’m certain that the pop-up beads coupled with trotting back every so often induced more bites. Keeping the strips of squid short also helped with the hook ups.

The Bracklesham trip produced the best tally of Bream I’ve experienced in a good while. There has been a marked drop in the numbers and size of fish in that area, particularly over the last five seasons, so it was

Black bream feeding

When using bait be sure to check it fairly regularly, Bream are known to strip hooks clean without you even noticing!

good to perhaps see the shoots of a recovery. The general size of fish is still down on what it once was. In recent years local club records show very few Bream of 4lb+ noted, whereas ten years ago fish of this stamp were regularly seen.

There are moves at present to tag Black Bream on the Kingmere with a view to recording data on where these fish travel outside of the breeding season. Commercial catch rates in some areas have declined which on the face of things tells its own story, it’s not that they aren’t being targeted but rather there are no longer strong levels of stock to be taken. Personally I am all for protecting an area where Black Bream are known to reproduce, surely any argument against this does not stand up to scrutiny, particularly if we want to continue seeing these fantastic fish along our coasts. One swallow doesn’t make a Summer and it remains to be seen if areas such as Bracklesham, Boulder Bank and Bullocks Patch can sustain a healthy Bream fishery. It would be nice to think in the not too distant future those 5lb’ers may still keep a few rods bouncing.